Perched on a peninsula that juts into the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Cod’s location made it the ideal termination spot for 3,200-mile-long telegraph cable that originated in Brest, France. These Atlantic cables were such a major accomplishment for its time, that some consider it to be as significant as Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.
These cables cut overseas communication times from four weeks to a matter of minutes, affecting not only the shipping trade but Wall Street and numerous other commercial endeavors.
The French Cable Station alerted the country to the first news of Charles A. Lindberg’s landing in Paris, and it provided the prime communication between Washington, D.C. and General Pershing in France during WWI.
About 9 miles south of Orleans, the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center succeeded the original Wellfleet station, which sent the first wireless message from the United States to the King of England in 1903. For an interesting post on the history of Flowerdew, Virginia, click here.
Built in 1914, the Marconi station was responsible for most of the ship-to-shore transmissions and many sea rescues in the early part of the 20th century. During WWII, the station helped in determining the location of German U-boats using signal triangulation.
Both the French Cable Station Museum and the Marconi Center contain an abundance of original communication equipment. There is a full Ham radio set up at Marconi that is still enjoyed by licensed operators today, and there’s also a German Enigma machine that was used to encrypt messages during WWII. While the Cable Station is home to one of only three Heurtley Magnifiers in existence.
The French Cable Museum
Once a communication hub, this building employed early cable operators and, during WWI, it was home to Marines stationed here to protect communications with Europe. This is where the French cable known as “Le Direct”, which originated in Brest, France, came ashore in the U.S.
At one time there were several thousand marine telegraph stations worldwide, but now only three remain including one in Porthcurno, England and Hearts Content, Newfoundland. The Orleans site looks as it did when it closed on Thanksgiving Day 1959; it’s as if the doors were locked and left undisturbed for over half a century. It is truly a Paddler’s paradise. See also this article about Historic Great Falls, Montana.
The Marconi Museum
About 9 miles south of the French Cable Museum sits a group of red brick buildings that constitute the Marconi site. The station, which communicated some of the most vital wartime naval information during WWII, is also the only Marconi station in the world still in its original setup.
The museum contains many historical communication devices ranging from a small Ham radio to a large “Boat Anchor” radio. There’s also an Enigma machine, similar to the one featured in the 2014 Academy Award-nominated movie, The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch. For information about historical Beachwood, New Jersey, click here.
When visiting the area, pay also a visit to beautiful Nantucket. A ferry will deliver you to the island of Nantucket where the first wireless ship-to-shore message was received in 1901. It was also here that the U.S. got the first message regarding the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. After you toured Nantucket Island, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the historic town and waterfront with its numerous shops and restaurants. Our Capital, Washington DC, is also full of history and fun!